Released: 1999
Director: Ataru Oikawa

We all like a good love story. You know the kind: boy meets girl, boy likes girl, boy becomes girl’s mind slave, boy murders girl in a jealous rage, girl respawns to spread her evil enslavement powers across the world. You know, the usual.

Many people are familiar with Junji Ito’s famously deranged manga, Tomie, and its depiction of a monster that takes the form of a teenage girl and ensnares the mind of every man she meets. Being such a well-loved piece of horror fiction, I imagine there was a lot of clamoring for a film adaptation of his work, and anticipation for what kind of terror it could bring to the screen while telling Tomie’s unsettling tale.

Tsukiko Izumisawa, on the surface, seems to have things together: she has a boyfriend she loves, is attending school, and is developing a love for photography. However, an accident that occurred in her past still weighs on her, as she cannot recall anything about what happened, or the events leading up to it. This missing piece of her past troubles her enough to seek help. When she consults a psychiatrist in order to help her recover her lost memories, she begins repeating the name “Tomie,” but without knowledge of who Tomie may actually be.

I’ve found that this movie gets a bit of a bad reputation, even within a series that is seen as a mixed bag. While it definitely has plenty of flaws, and is far from a great film, I don’t think it quite deserves the full brunt of the criticism it’s endured. I imagine a lot of this comes from the amount it strays from the source material, both in tone and narrative. These are fair criticisms; storyline wise, this film is genuinely difficult to follow unless you’re already familiar with the manga. Even then, it changes enough in the details to confuse even those who have read it. On top of this, the film’s low budget doesn’t allow for the film to express the Tomie-monster in the grotesque and unsettling ways the manga accomplishes.

However, I’d like to acknowledge and appreciate what this film does get right. First of all, its use of sound. I genuinely think sound is one of the most abused aspects of horror, films often choosing for loud, startling musical chords in place of actual scary things happening. Tomie starts off with an undercurrent of noises in the background that are truly unsettling, and set the tone well for a horror film. There is also a deeply strange and unusual recurring song throughout the film (called “Robby’s Song”), which uses soft, distorted vocals, and unnerving lyrics to achieve a nightmarish quality.

And while the film fails to really display, in visceral detail, the nature of Tomie with the manga’s trademark body horror, I think it does a fairly good job of conveying Tomie as inhuman with a few more subtle techniques. For instance, the film shies away from showing her face in full view until towards the end of the movie. When we see her, it’s almost strange how normal she looks, when she’s spent so much of the film with her face obscured by shadows. It’s a cheap trick, but it’s effective enough for its intended purpose; the audience receives the message that, normal appearance or not, Tomie isn’t what she appears.

Tomie, as a character in general, is enigmatic and fascinating. While it’s made perfectly clear that she’s an evil entity, and we really shouldn’t feel any sympathy for her, it’s hard not to see her situation as more than a little sad. Despite her ability to replicate, reproduce, and infectiously spread her existence around, it inevitably ends the same way each time: one of the men she enslaves murders her in a jealous rage. One can’t help but wonder what the goal is, then, of the immortality of such a creature, and what purpose her perpetual cycle of life and death serves.

I’m not naive enough to believe Junji Ito was attempting to make any kind of statement on sex, or the societal relationship of men and women in his creation of this character. Despite his intentions, it’s an interesting piece to hold up to the light and see the parallels. There’s a sense of Tomie’s femininity as dangerous, and her allure so strong that the men she ensnares destroy her in the process – and it’s always Tomie that is pinpointed as the cause of the violence. A woman who draws the intense obsession of the men she meets, to the point where they feel that they must destroy her, feels at times like an apt metaphor for something larger.

Tomie is an interesting film, and I think you get as much out of it as you put into it. It’s easy to take it at surface value, as a fun little monster flick, and it can be perfectly satisfying as such. But if you’re looking to be a little more philosophical in your view on it, it also allows for a bit of introspection on the nature of the beast.

Rating: 3 out of 5. Plenty of narrative flaws, but still fun!

Scariness level: Pretty good! For a Japanese-schoolgirl-shaped monster, Tomie is pretty damn eerie. Plus, that theme song. Shudder.

Violence level: It’s not consistent, but there are some gruesome moments. Guy in restaurant: 0, umbrella: 1

Bechdel test: Passes. Tsukiko and Tomie talk to each other, at length, while Tomie facetiously laments the loss of their friendship.

Mako Mori test: The whole story is centered around Tsukiko recovering her lost memories about Tomie – and really wishing she hadn’t. Pass.

Posted on August 18, 2015, in Films and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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